Late Summer has been unbelievably cool. During the past week (first week of September) the temperature barely reached the 80s. With various happenings to attend at the end of summer, this weekend was the first available for a walk in a few weeks. New construction on the access roads to the park blocked some of the pedestrian walkways but people found a way in to enjoy the weekend trails.
The temperature was perfect for walking. Gentle cool air and sun. There were still signs of the heavy thunderstorms. There were still traces of cascading water on a steep bank of soil facing the trail. Here and there small mushrooms burst out from under the carpet of leaves or peeped out from between tree roots.
Trees have been forming seeds. A birch tree next to a small meadow had beechnuts just starting to open among the leaves. Ripening seed pods looked like strips of brown crinkled paper. Oak leaves and new acorns had fallen to the trail. Leaves were still green, but looking worn with browned edges or transformed by insect damage. Here and there just a few leaves have changed from green into various colors, and late cooling summer had scattered just a handful of green, red or yellow leaves onto the ground and graced the green undergrowth with golden yellow flowers. Bold red berries hung in clusters.
Trees that had fallen during the summer have been cut and removed from the trail. The tangles of brown branches and brown dead leaves look strikingly dark against a backdrop of living green leaves. One large tangle of dead branches and leaves had become the framework for beautiful silky spiderwebs. The webs created a spectacular show of shimmering geometric patterns as sunlight and playful breezes bounced off the delicate webs.
Chipmunks sprinted along logs and shuffled through the dead leaves, stopping to nibble on snacks and eye the trail.
Bursts of rain a week back carved deep channels into the trail, and formed neatly terraced patterns of debris where the torrents of water found paths of least resistance.
Muddy patches were stamped with foot and paw prints. The sandy trail along the creek was damp, and there were smoothed areas where either the creek had overflowed onto the trail or large amounts of water had washed across the trail into the creek. The creek water was brown and swiftly flowing.
New trees had split and splintered, brought down possibly due to rain or unstable soil.
After the downpours and through the mugginess industrious spiders attended to their webs.
A few weedy ground covers were decorated with tiny flowers.
New green items have appeared on the trees and bushes: nuts, acorns, green balloons, and seed pods. A beech tree had formed brown spiky beechnuts, and an oak had already dropped several green acorns along the path. On trail and branch other green seedy things could be found. The mimosa tree over the creek had lost its pink pompoms and was all green with copious bunches of wide green seed pods maturing among the leaf fronds.
The vines along the creek had traded clusters of tiny white flowers for small green berries transitioning into purple and blue. The berries identify the vine as porcelain-berry.
A few stray yellow and red leaves had dropped onto the trail.
On trail and branch other green seedy things could be found
Porcelain berry (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata) is described by the Virginia Native Plant Society online as an invasive exotic vine which can overgrow and block sunlight from other species. The berries on the porcelain berry vine stick upwards unlike native grape species on which the grape berries droop downward.
This week’s walk found the woods very damp and waterlogged after heavy rains. The summer has produced a series of surprise thunderstorms, with torrential rain, thunder and lightening. After the storms, the air outside may be cool and breezy, but within the woods the air was completely still, very humid and moldy smelling. These conditions were the delight of all kinds of mushrooms which sprouted and conjured themselves from beneath the leaf litter. This visitor had never seen so many mushrooms. The mushrooms stood tall and short, alone, in clusters, in pairs or trios, with caps of gleaming white, or yellow, red, orange, or purple. So many mushrooms, some appeared to be tiny lanterns colorfully lighting the woods while others arrived as guests for a mid-summer party.
The mushroom tops varied from circular caps to flat or rounded umbrellas. While some were new and round, others had ragged edges or holes chewed in. One set had pointy edges giving them the appearance of sunflowers. One type of mushroom had a puffy white patterned cap like a toasted marshmallow. One small orange capped mushroom appeared to have tiny white stars stamped into its cap. A set of round mushrooms with holes in their center looked like rounded jars nestled into the forest floor. Bright colonies of tiny orange disks crowded inside an old hollowed tree trunk. Along the trail there were also mushrooms which had turned green with mold and appeared to be overtaken by another fungus as the mushroom cap collapsed. Other larger fungus thrived on the damp conditions; a large leafy looking fungus was growing around the base of a tree. The yellow shelves of fungus found a few weeks ago had grown and matured. Tree trunks had populations of fungus growing on them, white scaley fungus growing on the bark, or a black slimy blob fungus clinging to a fallen trunk.
No mushrooms were touched, many varieties are poisonous and best left undisturbed.
The conditions so delightful to the mushroom are not the most comfortable for people, so a relatively short walk was enough to admire this summer fungus party.
Summer tempts us to enjoy life outdoors and to spend more time among nature, to marvel at the engineering of a spider web. It takes a rainy day at last to catch up on tasks indoors.
Mid-July is a beautiful summery time in the woods. There is a sound of fullness in the woods. The green canopy leaves sway and rustle against each other, and the floor of dead leaves sound out loudly when birds or chipmunks move among them. Even an old dead leaf on a branch scratched against a tree trunk to make an unusual whisper. Cicadas buzzed and murmured unseen.
The summer has settled into the forest. Fat leaves and food growing, varieties of insects and mushrooms, moss and ripening berries; the chipmunks and squirrels find odd things to eat – perhaps seeds or roots or insects. There are many chipmunks making their homes in the woods this year and actively snacking and running around. There are interesting things among the tree roots, including shelves of yellow fungus.
On this sunny day, the trail temperature changed dramatically between the cool green shaded sections where cool air drifted down the shaded slopes or drafted upwards from the creek, to the hot sunny sections of trail where it felt like walking through thick slabs of hot air. But cross back into a shaded section and the trail air became immediately cool again as incredibly cool air flowed around. From a simple trail walk it’s clearly demonstrated how well trees can provide protection from the sun and instantly cool the air.
The cool breeziness offered near-perfect conditions for a spider’s web. And many spider webs were delicately bouncing on the breeze waiting to trap insects passing through on the currents of air.
In fact it appeared to be the age of spiders. Spider webs were woven between plants, tree trunks, branches and leaves, with neatly spaced rings and segments of silky thread glinting in the sun; the master or mistress of the web always holding the central position. One web spanned an 8 foot space with one end anchored on gently swaying leaves and the other other end fixed to the trunk of a tree. The web orb itself was fairly small, but somehow the tiny spider was able to span this wide open space and spin a web in the center of the divide.
A pair of blue swallow-tailed birds took to the air currents and dove and swooped over the creek before disappearing underneath a bridge.
Bees and giant wasp-like insects were visiting some flowering vines thriving in full sun along the creek. The vines had small clusters of tiny white flowers and rounded green berries.
In this context of summer green, sun, and shadow, a thin stalk with multiple miniscule purple flowers caught the eye. At a different point on the trail a sole purple flower stood alone among green leafy ground covers.
The only other ground plants with flowers were a few clusters of very tiny clover-leafed plants with small yellow flowers. A set of plants with dried cones were an unusual sight.
A woodpecker flew and climbed high on a tree trunk, then disappeared into the leafy canopy.
Several small blue and grey birds sang and watched the trail and flitted from branch to branch.
Water is essential during these hotter months, and an energy snack too. It’s common to feel drowsier than normal and make a misstep or two. Even regular walkers must take care to watch their footing as rainstorms can wash out trails and expose rocks and roots which will easily catch on a shoe.
After several weeks away, it was time to visit the woods with a good long walk. Happy to be back on the trails, but not prepared for…summer!
Yes, summer has arrived, bringing a combination of high temperatures and humidity which gave this walk the first challenging conditions of the year. After a few weeks of relatively mild weather, a heat index of nearly 100 degrees was exhausting! Snacks and supplies to rehydrate and reenergize, while always welcome on walks, are more necessary now during the summer.
A few minutes into the walk, a low buzzing at first sounded like distant landscaping equipment, but it droned in and out. Cicadas! The sound of summer, and a sign to bring extra water. Robins accompanied us along the trail as usual. A couple of pieces of robin’s egg were visible near the trail.
The squirrels and chipmunks were busy running around collecting food and darting about in the corners of the woods. They scampered along logs and up tree trunks and dove through the leaves.
A portly chipmunk was too fast to photograph, but a couple of smaller chipmunks skillfully froze in place long enough for a few photos.
Along the trail, vines continue to stretch high and into the trail and grow around each other. New tree saplings were establishing themselves on the ground.
Other signs of summer were evident during the walk. The woods appeared in need of rain. Soil was dry and cracked on the trail, and some of the stream beds and gullies were dry.
Mayapplies were yellowed and flopped over.
At the end of thorny stalks raspberries were ripening into bright oranges and reds.
Large white Mushrooms had emerged from the soil with papery white scrolls hanging over pink frills underneath; and mosses and lichens spread over the ground and logs.
The wintergreen plants seemed to be past their flowering stage for this year. They are quite common on the hillside where we spotted the first flower buds a few weeks ago. Now their long flower stalks have round green berries on the ends.
There were signs of insect damage and webbing in several places. A tree trunk appeared damaged where patches of bark had been chewed at different heights on the tree. Other leaves showed tent like webbing and leaf damage.
At a bend in the trail descending toward the creek, along a dry streambed there was a fluttering sound as a black, orange and white bird preened its feathers. The bird perched in a bush on a low branch for a minute or two, fanning and fluttering his disheveled feathers. Across the streambed a female cardinal had also stopped to preen her feathers, and a bright red male alighted on her branch for just a moment before disappearing back into the green canopy.
A grey catbird hopped along over debris near the creek, posing for a moment to watch a visitor take its photo.
The main creek was actually quite clear and fish were lolling and basking in the sun or cruising in the shadows of the rocks. It was nice to sit and rest by the creek but there wasn’t much air moving. The creek and shade didn’t offer a cool enough location to retreat from the heat.
Next to the creek a mimosa tree was in bloom with white and pink brushy flowers. The tree fanned out over the creek with a slight flowery fragrance.
The heat began to take its toll on the trip home. Frequent breaks and a slower pace help prevent overheating. Unfortunately, the water in the creeks and streams are completely off-limits due to human pollution. Summer visitors must carry water and refreshments.
According to the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences online, mimosa tree (Albizia julibrissin) is native to Asia, and considered an invasive species due to its ability to grow in various soil types, to regenerate when cut back, and to reduce sunlight and nutrient availability for other species.
Eastern towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus) – According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology online, Eastern Towhees are birds of the undergrowth, where their rummaging makes far more noise than you would expect for their size.
In early June the woods were leafy, dark, and green! Back after a couple of weeks away in May, we walked the trails looking for what’s new. There was so much growth from the ground cover plants which had emerged just a few weeks prior. It seemed that these plants had set in for the summer, on cruise control to grow and deepen in color as the temperatures rise. The trail was dappled with sunlight.
Looking for anything new or unusual, we spotted many chipmunks, nearly half a dozen in just 30 minutes. They squeak and sprint through rustling leaves or along a log, then freeze and disappear from detection until they squeak and sprint again. Numerous, and apparently new, holes show that subterranean excavations have been underway in the woods. Could these plump chipmunks be any happier?
A large grey bird of prey lifted itself up from the ground and flew into the canopy. It may have been waiting for a chipmunk snack.
Scraggly thin vine tendrils reached and stretch into the air and out into the trail, just searching for something to grab onto.
There was a nice display of starry-shaped plants growing on a mossy embankment. A single sighting of a small, precious plant just a few inches high and two flower buds bowing towards the ground was a reassuring sign that wild flowers are still working their magic in the woods in this age of vines.
On the way home, we spotted a deer munching on the new leaves and saplings, casually turning its neck to observe the visitors. Slowly it walked on and then sprang into the luscious leaves.
A blue jay bounced between the ground and a low tree branch before flying off into the canopy.
A blue jay bounced between the ground and a low tree branch before flying off into the canopy.
Chimaphila maculata – striped wintergreen. According to Maryland Native Plant Society, striped wintergreen is a low-growing herbaceous plant with creamy-veined (or “striped”) forest-green leaves, frequently with flowers in pairs.
May is a busy month in the woods. People too are suddenly busy in May. It’s more of a challenge to take regular walks and organize photos when the month is filled with travel, weddings, friends visiting. These May Chronicles entries are a look back at the walks throughout the month.
First week of May. Rain! A day with light rain can be a wonderful day to walk in the woods, after the springtime leafy canopy has grown in. The tree branches and leaves naturally reach to catch sun rays and fill open spaces at any height, providing incredible coverage over the ground below. The leaves and flower petals are positioned to catch just about every drop of sun, and catch every drop of rain as well. The gentle sounds of rain falling on so many leaves is soft and lovely to hear, instead of the noise of a crowded city. The light is low, not great for taking photos, but fine for a walk. The foliage surfaces are shiny and some bead with raindrops. The sounds of the birds are slightly amplified by all those rainy surfaces, or does it just seem that way?
There had been heavy rains the day before our walk, the trail was waterlogged, and run off had carved channels near the trails. After heavy rains the rivers and creeks turn brown, from erosion of soil from the urban yards and woods. There are a few muddy patches and small streams to cross as we go.
Ground covers have been growing under these conditions of rain, warmer weather, and filtered light.
A male and lady cardinal fly across the trail and were visible singing on a low branch. The ever present robin bobbed along over the wet leaves keeping an eye on us. A chipmunk is spotted running start and stop through the leaves too quickly and too well hidden for a photo.
Two groups of deer drifted through the darkness of the woods chewing mouthfuls of fresh green leaves. They were unhurried, but their eyes watched the trail as they chewed on leaves from fallen branches.
The Conopholis sentry have turned a rusty red color and shrunk back a bit, however still maintaining their posts! The leafy carpet takes on richer hues in this rainy weather, and ferns and moss are glowing green with all the moisture.
A final discovery before returning home, dozens of tiny orange spiders in a nursery web just next to the trail. The light was fading and the only way to get this cozy scene into focus was to use the flash, which created a black background.
After nearly two weeks of sun, rain, and fluctuating temperatures the woods look completely different! Everywhere high and low the beech trees have sent forth new delicate leaves, there are new unruly ground covers, and the flowers have changed. During my last walk, the bare tree branches still left the trails exposed to sun, cloud, and rain; but now a newly green and leafy canopy has enclosed the trail above and on all sides! There are now curtains upon curtains of translucent light green beech tree leaves in every direction.
There was a light rain all day yesterday, ok to enjoy the outdoors, but good idea to bring an umbrella just in case. The overcast sky created a beautiful diffused light. Walking through the woods surrounded by beech leaves was such a different experience from only two weeks ago. The leafy canopy not only offers some protection from the raindrops, but the leaf cover makes the woods sound softer. In the rain there was the soft tapping sounds of the raindrops falling onto the leaves; it sounded the same as rain on a camp tent, evoking a relaxing and cozy feeling of tent time (as long as the tent is keeping the occupants dry of course!).
As we approached the area where the owls had been spotted in previous weeks and looked up, we realized the walks with easy bird watching were over, at least until after the fall. Leaves layer each other and mostly the birds’ presence is only indicated by their songs.
As it was late in the day and the light was fading it wasn’t a long walk. A distant twinkle from a neighborhood lamp beyond the leaves and it was time to go home.
Paulownia tomentosa, also known as Empress Tree – exotic species native to Asia (according to the online Invasive Plant Atlas of the United States)
A beautiful day in the woods today! Warm temperature, hardly any clouds or wind, and later in the day the warm sunlight backlit new green leaves as if they were jade charms dangling on delicate bracelets.
This week the purple violets and tiny white flowers were the most abundant flowers, decorating the trail’s edge and tucked in and around tree roots.
More green leaves and grasses have grown up since last week in some parts of the woods, and parts of the trail have become more defined as a soft brown suede path surrounded by light green growth.
I heard several woodpeckers and managed to glimpse a flying pileated woodpecker (possibly), and saw a smaller downy or hoary woodpecker through the trees, but they were too fast to be observed for long. Also there were mourning doves calling in the woods, and at one point along the trail I looked up to see a pair resting on a branch just above me, two fluffy doves on a narrow branch. I heard and caught sight of two bright red male cardinals moving about some branches making noise. And at the end of my trip, while wondering what had become of the barred owl we saw three weeks ago, I was searching the branches in the vicinity of that old owl tree, when I suddenly saw this fluffy little owlet perched quite calmly on a branch out in the open. What a cute owlet, casually snoozing as the sun was setting. I wondered if there had been plenty of woodland critters available to feed this owl. And there were still a few squirrels nearby going about their business.
Trout lily leaves have sprouted between the trees along the creek. A few yellow trout lilies have opened! The marsh marigold leaves provide a soft looking ground cover, and this week other plants have grown up through the cover to different shapes and heights.
A bright green iridescent beetle with a long body and bulgy eyes was crawling along the trail and stood still for a second as I peered down at it, then it flew away. Not a familiar sight, I wondered what this insect was doing in the woods (perhaps it wondered the same).
Sunlight shimmered throughout the woods today, spiderwebs outlined in the sun, a stream reflected golden sunlight off its surface, and translucent flowers and leaves gleamed as the sun set behind them. A folded leaf on a low growing plant caught my eye, although I nearly rushed right past. It turned out to be a lone jack in the pulpit, unassumingly growing right next to the trail! Discoveries every week.
If flowers could jump from behind a log and shout SURPRISE!
Tiny flowers call this root nook home
More photos to share throughout the week in separate posts.